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Netanyahu slams transportation minister as train row sparks coalition crisis

Le Premier ministre israëlien Benyamin Netanyahou (c), le ministre des Transports et des Renseignements Israël Katz (g) et le secrétaire du cabinet Aryeh Zohar, à Jérusalem le 6 mars 2016
ABIR SULTAN (POOL/AFP/Archives)
Opposition lawmakers petition High Court to overturn decision to halt maintenance work on Shabbat

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday slammed Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, blaming him for sparking a coalition crisis over work on Israel’s railways on the Jewish Shabbat.

The Prime Minister accused Katz of artificially creating a row between Likud and leaders of ultra-Orthodox parties last week when he ordered the continuation of work on construction projects over the weekend.

“This is an initiated and superfluous crisis on the part of Minister Yisrael Katz, which was meant to undermine the relations between the prime minister and the ultra-Orthodox public, or alternatively to harm the prime minister's image among the general public,” Netanyahu’s office said a statement.

“From the very beginning, there was no need to call for work to be done on the Sabbath. It was possible for the work to be done at other times, and not hurt the ultra-Orthodox public, or the soldiers,” Netanyahu said.

Katz was “holding passengers and soldiers hostage in the superfluous and artificial crisis he created, after he failed in his effort to take over the Likud's institutions," the statement said, referring to a recent attempt by Katz to make changes to internal Likud affairs that weakened the position of the party chairmanship, held by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu on Friday instructed Israel Railways to halt 17 out of 20 projects that were scheduled to take place over the weekend, after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to leave the governing coalition, thereby toppling the government, if work continued on the Sabbath.

Work on the 17 projects would instead take place on Saturday night — after Shabbat has ended — and on Sunday, leading to the cancellation of services at several railway stations affecting between 70,000 and 100,000 commuters. 

The crisis also brougt focus on the deep rift between Netanyahu and Katz, wit rumors surfacing that Netanyahu was planning to releave Katz of his post as transportation minister.

A number of Likud members came out in support of Katz on the matter, calling on Netanyahu to keep Katz at his post, despite the crisis that erupted between them.

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz called on Netanyahu on Saturday night "to not even consider" firing Katz and instead "to sit down and talk in order to bring the crisis to and end and to solve the problem with the ultra-Orthodox parties."

Earlier on Saturday, Likud MK Oren Hazan also appealed to Netanyahu saying: "enough with the denunciations of Yisrael Katz. He isn't the enemy."

"A continuation of the internal fights will harm the Likud, harm you and lead to elections and the end of your term as prime minister," Hazan said. 

"How do you, sir, expect the public to trust us when we come across as always fighting among ourselves," he added.

Meanwhile, Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice on Saturday in an attempt to reverse the decision to stop work on the train's infrastructure on Saturdays.

"The court must put an end to the prime minister's unbridled rampage at the expense of thousands of passengers," Galon said.

"The decision to stop the train infrastructure work a moment before Shabbat began was made without authority, in contrast to the Government Companies Law and in contrast to the legally issued work permits to work on Shabbat."

"The prime minister's capitulation to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox parties and rabbis in Israel, for the sake of preserving the coalition that he built, which produced the 'order' to the railway [company], is nothing but the elimination of the rule of law and the principles of democracy in the State of Israel," the petition read.

Members of the opposition meanwhile, announced they collected 25 signatures of MKs required to force a special committee session to discuss Netanyahu’s decision. 

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